Episode 90 – You Need To Be Creative & Innovative with Kelsey Hightower

 In Podcasts

In this episode Phil speaks to Kelsey Hightower, who is known in the industry as an innovator who makes things happen. He strongly believes in the power of the community, so works on bringing people together and motivating them to produce products that truly work. He is currently working on the GoogleCloud project and is a popular technical workshop speaker and teacher, who believes in and advocates the use of Open Source products.


­­­ (00.59) – So Kelsey, you can I ask you to expand on that brief summary and tell us a little bit about yourself? Kelsey explains that he has been in tech for about 14 years with various companies including Puppet Labs and Chrome OS. He is currently working at Google making sure that all elements of the Google Cloud work together. Kelsey says he is working on the computer side of the house, on everything from Kubernetes to the Google service platform. He now describes himself as a generalist. Phil described Kelsey’s role as creating “seamless integration from a user perspective”

(2.00) – Phil asks Kelsey for a unique IT career tip.  Kelsey’s tip is to “write it down”. In IT we tend to do things on the fly. Often, we do this because we are trying to minimize outage time. Sometimes it is because we want to implement change and feel we need to move quickly to keep everyone on board. Operating like this means that, often, we do not come up with the right solution. In the long-term this can turn out to be a big problem. It is important to stop, sit down and capture all the facts and consider the pros and cons of your proposed solution. You also need to discuss the idea with others. For this a document acts as a great reference point. It also enables you to look back and understand why you made the decisions you did.

(3.25) – Phil asks – Do you see that as an iterative process, as well? Kelsey agrees. Often these projects can span many years. Over that time, things will change so the objective or goal can also evolve. But, that document you created captures the current situation. It does not mean that you should never change your opinions and the direction you take.

(4.24) – Phil asks – do you see it as a problem in IT generally that people don’t necessarily think too far ahead in terms of what the future might look like? In IT people tend not to take the time to document why things are done the way they are. Plus, they do not always work to push things forward. When someone asks them to change, their immediate response is that “it is not possible”. But, when you ask them to explain why the change is not viable, they do not really know. They just know that things have always been done that way and can be resistant to change.

(5.31) – Kelsey is asked to share his worst career moment with the audience. For Kelsey it was the moment that he realized that to be able to make progress on a project you have to convince people that things need to happen. The realization put out a flame for him. Prior to that, he believed that he could just make things happen. He was a bit disappointed to realize that he had to overcome people’s resistance to get things done. But, he soon adjusted and learned to do both. So, in the end his worst career moment resulted in a positive change for Kelsey.

(7.10) – Phil asks Kelsey what his best career moment was. Kelsey explained it was the day he first spoke publicly at a meetup in Georgia Tech. He did a lot of preparation for that event, so that he could make his points concisely and take the entire audience, including the newcomers, with him. It went really well and he got great feedback. That day inspired him and set the scene for the rest of his IT career. Today, he enjoys seeing the light bulbs going on as the audience “gets it”.

(10.11) – Phil asks Kelsey what excites him about the future of the IT industry. Kelsey responds “the potential”. Today, it is possible for a newcomer or new business to come along and use some of the existing systems to get what needs to be done. They do not have to worry about legacy systems and integrations. It is possible to install a modern system that just works and takes care of the basic functions, leaving the new firm to focus on growing their business.

(11.55) – What attracted you to a career in IT? When Kelsey started his IT career, you did not need a college degree and you could earn very good money. Both of these facts attracted him to the field. Working in IT is a great way to connect with others, make a difference and be rewarded financially for your efforts.

(12.46) – What is the best career advice you have been given? Definitely, “write it down.” If you believe something is the solution write down why you think that is the case. Doing so allows you to see things clearly and makes it easier for others to consider your proposal and challenge it if necessary. This greatly improves your ability to identify and implement the right solution for the situation.

(13.48) – If you were to start your IT career again, right, now, what would you do? Kelsey said that it is important to understand that the fundamentals are more important than the products. If you dive deep and learn the fundamentals of a product you can operate well in most environments. Phil summed it up by saying the technologies may not last but the fundamentals are always of value.

(15.05) – Phil asks Kelsey what he is currently focusing on. Kelsey says he is just working on being a little better every day. Each day he pauses and spends a little time analyzing what happened and how he can improve. He is also focused on building up his technical ability and becoming a real expert in certain areas. Kelsey is now willing to go deep. He is not just taking the “happy path” and learning what can be done with his chosen technologies he is also studying its limitations, so he can recognize when not to use it.

(16.22) – What would you consider to be your most important non-technical skill? Kelsey says his genuine positivity keeps him excited about the projects he is working on and what he is learning. He is able to pass that positivity on to others, which motivates them. Making people feel good about themselves inspires them and pushes them to be more effective.

(17.19) – Phil asks Kelsey to share a few final words of career advice. In IT you need to push yourself, to think outside of the box and over deliver. Kelsey explained that he has come across people who just take a task and do exactly the task. They do not look beyond it and never ask themselves if they could come up with something even better than what is being asked for. As a result, they stagnate and do not really grow. They end up spending 15 years in a role, but only accrue the equivalent of one year’s experience. Don’t be afraid to “automate yourself out of a job”, there will always be more work to do, better work. You need to be creative and innovative when you work in IT not just someone who blindly does a list of tasks.


(5.22) KELSEY –”Noone is really sure why the process exists. There’s no clear place with the processes defined, so we know how to improve it. I think that’s one of the biggest problems we see today.”


(6.49) KELSEY – “A lot of cases, you would actually spend more time doing the convincing than the actual solution takes.”

(9.09) KELSEY – “You can see the light bulb go off for some people for the very first time and you know that those communication skills are working.”

(9.53) KELSEY – “You have to learn how to create the light bulb moment for yourself before you can create them for other people.”

(15.05) – Phil – “The technologies won’t last but the fundamentals are always of value.”

(15.18) KELSEY – “Just be a bit wiser every day.”



Twitter: https://twitter.com/kelseyhightower @kelseyhightower


Recent Posts
Contact Us

We're not around right now. But you can send us an email and we'll get back to you, asap.

Not readable? Change text.

Start typing and press Enter to search